Martin S. Fuentes
Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013 | 1:59 a.m.
Most of the Green Valley student section beat the players in the mad rush to the Henderson Bowl trophy.
This year’s Henderson Bowl felt more like a three-hour high-speed chase than a football game. For all but a moment that passed as fast as 100 yards in a racecar, Green Valley was the pursued.
Like the best getaway drivers, the Gators were never caught again. They increased their distance until they were out of sight, blazing past Basic 58-36.
“It was an offensive game,” Green Valley junior quarterback Christian Lopez said. “They came out really good. We came out really good. They would score on us, we would counter-punch them.”
The most points ever scored previously in the 22-year history of the Henderson Bowl were 75. The Gators and visiting Wolves had combined for 80 before the fourth quarter Saturday.
By the end of the night, Green Valley could boast its biggest Henderson Bowl victory since a 44-21 win in 1998. But there never felt like that much separation.
“That’s the way this game has been going recently,” Green Valley coach Brian Castro said. “It’s just crazy.”
The quarterbacks are the ones who made it that way. Lopez and Basic’s Antraye Johnson got their teams’ engines revving early, leading scoring drives on each of their first two possessions.
The Gators got the ball first and took just more than two minutes to get into the end zone when Lopez broke a run outside for a 20-yard score. Johnson completed a 64-yard pass to David Garza — the quarterback’s favorite target who finished with 122 receiving yards — less than a minute later to set up a Wolves touchdown.
“No. 5 is a heck of a football player,” Castro said of Johnson. “He did a lot of great things tonight — throwing the ball, running the ball. He had us on our heels.”
Johnson finished with 84 percent of his team’s offensive production — 230 passing yards and 142 rushing yards. Lopez passed for 310 yards and ran for 38 more.
But it was obvious Lopez had more weapons around him, or at least knew how to utilize them better.
After Basic’s Jon Scoffield powered his way in for his second of three touchdowns to end the first quarter, Green Valley outscored its archrival 34-6 for the next 15 minutes of game time.
Lopez connected with Kyler Chavez — who had four total catches for 73 yards — on two touchdowns of more than 20 yards during the span. He found Albert Lake — who compiled 121 all-purpose yards and the game’s only interception — for another.
But the teammate he kept coming back to was senior Markus Varner, who had nine catches for 110 yards with one receiving touchdown and one fumble-recovery score. Varner was particularly lethal on third-downs, keeping scoring drives alive on several occasions with long receptions.
“We just click,” Lopez concluded. “We’ve worked on having that symmetry all year long.”
Led by a suddenly formidable push up front from Josh Santiago and Jonathon DeMello, the Gators were able to somewhat contain Johnson during Lopez’s wide receiver variety hour. But as can be expected for any player of his caliber, Johnson regained his bearings before it was too late.
Coinciding with Green Valley’s first three-and-out of the night at the end of the third quarter, Johnson guided Basic on two consecutive scoring drives capped by two-point conversions.
He had willed the Wolves back into the game at only a 44-36 deficit.
“We weren’t executing,” Lopez said. “We let the pressure get to us. We need to keep pushing when games get like this.”
The Gators mounted a response with a long drive that was halted when Larry Norman fumbled at the one-yard line, and the Wolves recovered with six minutes to go.
Two goal line mishandles clouded an otherwise spectacular night from Norman, who had 215 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. But Norman’s defensive teammates had his back, as they stuffed Johnson on the ensuing possession.
“Our defense has things we need to improve on,” Castro conceded. “But when we needed to make plays at a certain time, we did.”
When Green Valley got the ball back, Lopez was determined to put an end to its pesky chaser. He found Varner — on a third-down no less — for a 12-yard touchdown that sealed the victory.
Green Valley improved to 15-8 in the Henderson Bowl all-time. What that meant to the players was evident, even if the energy to sprint to the trophy as fast their classmates eluded them.
“I’ve only had the Henderson Bowl for two years but I’m loving it,” Lopez said. “This is what I always worked for.”